Custody Exchanges During COVID-19

Submitted by New Jersey Family Law Attorney, Jeffrey Hark.

For those parents under Court Order or agreement to conduct child custody exchanges regularly, the COVID-19  crisis complicates matters. Are you in violation of a Court Order or parenting time agreement if you refuse to partake in a custody exchange because of fear of contracting the Corona virus?  Or do you have the best interest of the children in mind by keeping them home in times of uncertainty?

From a family law perspective, there is no clear answer. If you find yourself in this situation, always remember you will be judged by the best interest of the child standard. Our federal government and the State of New Jersey are urging everyone to stay indoors, except for necessities, in an attempt to “flatten the curve.”  On the other hand, parenting time is a right, not only recognized by New Jersey courts, but also by the United States Constitution.  Because parenting time is such an important right for each parent, you should make every reasonable attempt to ensure the other parent is given his or her parenting time.

Amid the COVID-19 hysteria, these are uncertain times.  It is unclear how Family Judges will interpret possible violations of parenting time Orders and agreements. Accordingly, there are some considerations to take into account:

  1. Safety first. If you believe that by performing a custody exchange that there is a reasonable prospect of exposing your child to Corona virus, it is probably best to not partake in the custody exchange. Custody exchanges in public places are not ideal in the COVID-19 environment. Custody exchanges from one private residence to another are preferred.
  2. Parental rights. If your custody exchanges take place from one private residence to another, you should make the effort to complete the custody exchange.
  3. Modification of agreement. If you have an agreement for your custody exchange to take place in a public setting, reach out to the other parent to see if you can come to a temporary agreement to move the custody exchange to private residences. Please note that this cannot be done if a restraining order is in effect.
  4. Communication. Perhaps above all, communicate with the other parent about the situation. Everyone is going through the same situation with coronavirus. There is fear, anxiety and uncertainty. Communicating with your child’s parent will give you the best opportunity to act in the best interest of your child. You may also find out about possible exposure risks if the other parent or someone in the household has COVID-19 symptoms.

Keep in mind the coronavirus situation is temporary. This will pass. Between now and then, do your best to maintain your duties for custody exchanges. But if you reasonably fear for your child being exposed to COVID-19, try and work things out with the other parent. If you cannot, do what is recommended and stay home.

At Hark & Hark, we help parents with divorce, custody, domestic violence, child support issues and more.

In recognition of these trying financial times, we are reducing fees and working with clients to come up with manageable payment plans. Initial consultation is always free and we are available remotely.

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Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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